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Bad day, mate: why Australian flu is tearing through the UK

Name: Australian flu.

Full name: Influenza A virus subtype H3N2.

Symptoms: Fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, sore throat, difficulty sleeping, headache.

It just sounds like you’ve got a cold, pal. It’s slightly more serious than that. The spread of Australian flu is potentially the worst outbreak in 50 years. It’s why so many hospitals are struggling to cope.

It’s not that bad, surely. Take a look at flusurvey.org.uk. It’s a map of the country where people can register their symptoms. Registrations have suddenly spiked over the past couple of days. There’s barely an uninfected region left in the whole country.

We are an island of snowflakes. I mean, not really. We’re not talking minor sniffles here. It’s thought that 17 people were admitted to intensive care because of Australian flu last week alone. In Australia, the source of the strain, more than 300 people have died because of it.

I can’t think of a pithy comeback here. And worse is apparently to come. If this really is as bad as the 1968 Hong Kong flu outbreak – caused by the same subtype – then between 1 million and 4 million people could die from it.

Oh my God. On the plus side, it’s unlikely to be as virulent as the Spanish flu outbreak 100 years ago. That is thought to have caused between 25 million and 50 million deaths.

Oh my GOD. What are we supposed to do? If you have already got the flu, it’s recommended that you stay in bed, drink lots of water and treat aches and pains with ibuprofen and paracetamol.

And if I don’t have it? A vaccine is still available, although it can take up to two weeks to kick in and there are fears that it is losing its effectiveness with elderly people.

So, what should I do? You could follow the lead of the Down and Connor Catholic diocese in Northern Ireland, which has temporarily banned handshakes during the “sign of peace” as a measure of precaution.

And then what? God knows. Seal up your doors? Only eat tinned food? Buy and wear a hazmat suit? I don’t know, I’m not a doctor.

This isn’t very reassuring. You’re such a snowflake. It’s just a bit of man flu. You might only die from it a bit.

Do say: “If you think you’ve got Australian flu, for God’s sake, stay at home.”

Don’t say: “This is the worst Australian export since Foster’s.”

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